Full Chisel Blog

November 19, 2008

The Journey or the Destination

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:46 am

A discussion over at Wood Central Hand Tool Forum talked about woodworking and what was more important the Journey or the Destination.  Or the process verses the product and which provided the most rewards.

That got me thinking and you know where that leads.  Some argued that it was the journey that provided the most enjoyment, using their tools with their skills to do the work and to learn from mistakes and from others.  Then there were those (fewer in number, no surprise) that thought that it was the destination was of more importance.  Whereas the journey was only incidental in getting the finished product.  It wasn’t the tools it was what the tools made that was the reward.

This dichotomy has been around for a while, I am not sure why we need dichotomies other than a single chotomy is rather boring.  We as a species do like to organize things and put them in categories and have labels and like things neat and tidy, well some of our species.

I thought about both sides and both arguments, I considered the journey as well as the destination, the process and the product.  I initially thought that I was a more process oriented craftsman and that the product was secondary, yet important because that is where money is made.

People that do woodworking as a hobby generally (and I dislike generalizations) are more process oriented where making the project is more fulfilling than the project itself, although it has some significance.  People that do woodworking as a profession are more concerned about the end product as that pays the bills.

Here is my take on this issue. (I do woodworking for a living and it is also my hobby, I don’t have a life).  I can not make the distinction between the journey and the destination.  When I am in the process of building something (the journey), I can not fail to consider the outcome (the destination).  I actually start at the destination , what I am going to be building and the idea of the final product is in my mind, sketched on a piece of paper or from a photograph or other source.  

So I begin my journey at the destination and at that point consider how I am going to build what is in the queue.  I plan my journey only after I have a good understanding of where I intend to end up.  In my case the journey and destination are not separate.   Even if the terminology is different I can not consider the end result, the product without understanding the process.  Although I have designed things that in the end were difficult to build, I try not to do that anymore.

 I do a fair amount of repair and restoration work and in that case the product (destination if you will) is already there and it is just the process or journey.  I also make reproduction furniture and tools and existing examples are around to copy.  So by examining them closely I am able to discern many of the techniques incorporated in making the piece as well as discovering what tools were used in the process.  The latter by the marks they leave.

For me the process is inextricable from the product, they are not the same thing and I can’t consider one without considering the other.  And then some will just say that I do things backwards.




  1. Good points, all. In such conversations it’s sometimes useful to look at the terms. In this case “destination” (ie product) is ill-defined in every debate I’ve ever seen on this subject.

    If one wants a piece of furniture that reflects traditional building standards, one cannot achieve it with power tools and PVA glue. Likewise, if one is after very high-quality hardwood cabinetry, one cannot achieve it by using only power tools. If, on the other hand, the product is simply “a desk”, then possibly it can be had using “get it done as quickly as possible” techniques.

    I don’t mean, here, to be perjorative about power tool use but rather to suggest that most of the “dichotomy” can be resolved by looking at what constitutes the “product” or “destination.”

    Cheers — Larry

    Comment by Larry Marshall — November 19, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  2. Stephen,

    Great article!

    You have my vote for traditional woodworking’s greatest apologist!

    Comment by Luke Townsley — November 19, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  3. Stephen, this is about the most intelligent observation regarding this topic that I have read yet.

    If there has to be a division, as an ex-power tool guy, I can tell you that, from my perspective, the division is based on the type of tools you use. I have never personally experienced, nor have I heard a power tool user say, “Listening to this tool scream in my ear while it tries to throw this piece of wood back at me as I eat a gallon of sawdust a minute sure makes this journey enjoyable”. On the other hand, I have also never heard a hand tool user, as he pushes a mass of cast iron back and forth across a piece of wood, making sure it doesn’t dip, droop, tilt or drop for hours on end say, “I can’t wait to get this thing together”.

    It is a silly argument at best, but one that could be defined simply by the type of tools you use.

    Comment by Mitchell — November 20, 2008 @ 8:02 am

  4. The journey takes you to your destination.
    Your destination is reached by taking the journey.
    Ergo, you cannot have a journey without a destination, even if your destination is an endless journey, and you cannot have a destination without going through the steps of getting there.

    Now I’m beginning to feel like James Krenov…


    Comment by Gary Roberts — November 20, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  5. Thank you all!

    I can only think of two things to say (at the moment):

    You can’t be lost if you don’t know where you are going.

    A tourist has a destination and a traveler doesn’t.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 20, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  6. And here I always thought a traveler just went around a wheel in endless circles…


    Comment by Gary Roberts — November 21, 2008 @ 8:00 am

  7. Gary,

    Of course you would be correct and that is the European term. The American term is Follower or Tracing Wheel. I hope this was not too tyring?


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 21, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

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